Food insecurity 'widespread' in North Korea – UN-led report

SEOUL, South Korea – Chronic food shortages and malnutrition are widespread in North Korea, a United Nations-led report said, as a senior official appealed to donors not to let political considerations get in the way of humanitarian assistance.

The "Needs and Priorities" assessment by the Humanitarian Country Team, a group of UN agencies and NGOs, said that the population had "crucial, unmet" needs.

Around 41% – 10.5 million people – were undernourished, it said, citing figures from the International Food Policy Research Insitute's 2016 Global Hunger Index, which ranked it 98th out of 118 countries.

North Korea is "in the midst of a protracted, entrenched humanitarian situation largely forgotten or overlooked by the rest of the world," said Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Cooprdinator for North Korea.

Securing funds for humanitarian programs in the nuclear-armed country, which is subject to multiple sets of UN sanctions for its weapons and missile programs, "has historically been very challenging," Mishra said.

"I appeal to donors not to let political considerations get in the way of providing continued support for humanitarian assistance and relief."

Around 18 million North Koreans, or 70% of the population including 1.3 million under-5 children, depend on the government-run Public Distribution System for rations of cereal and potatoes.

But most people do not consume a sufficiently diverse diet for healthy development, the report said.

Between July and September last year, the report said, average monthly public rations fell to 300 grams per person per day, far below Pyongyang's target 573 grams.

There were "complex, intertwined" reasons for the high malnutrition rates in the North, the document added, including unfavorable land and weather conditions for food cultivation as well as a lack of quality seeds, fertilizer, and equipment.

The North has periodically been hit by famine, and hundreds of thousands of people died – estimates range into the millions – in the mid-1990s, a period known in the country as the "Arduous March." – Rappler.com